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Durham and Cleveland buck the national trend on restorative justice

By Peter Keeling, Policy Officer at the Criminal Justice Alliance

Victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system are often confusing and alienating. While victims play a crucial role, both in terms of reporting a crime and then providing evidence, the criminal justice process is too often an unsatisfactory vehicle for providing healing and closure to the harm created by a crime.

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Restorative Justice (RJ), a process that brings together victims of crime and offenders voluntarily to recognise and resolve the harm caused by an offence, may offer a more meaningful way to engage victims of crime (the CJA recently produced a briefing on the benefits of RJ). But while some areas of the country are beginning to recognise the benefits of RJ, its availability for victims is still inconsistent.

Between 2013 and 2016, the Ministry of Justice allocated £23 million to fund Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to develop victim-initiated and pre-sentence RJ services. Crucially, these funds were ear-marked for RJ activities. But since 2016 the funding for RJ services has been subsumed into the general victims’ budgets for PCCs.

Research by CJA member Why Me? on RJ spending by PCCs revealed the stark effect of removing this ring-fence and allowing PCCs to determine their own budgets for RJ. Total financial allocation for RJ fell from nearly £13 million in 2015/16 to less than £5 million in 2016/17 and PCCs now spend, on average, less than seven per cent of their total victims’ budget on RJ services.

But recent visits to Durham and Cleveland – where police leadership has driven support for RJ services even since the ring-fence was removed – have shown how some forces in the country continue to develop and refine restorative services. Both forces, according to Why Me?, spend around a fifth of their victims’ budgets on RJ.

Durham and Cleveland are developing strong multi-agency ways of working that bring together police, prisons and probation services. This delivery model recognises that, in many cases, RJ does not work in a silo and requires co-operation from a range of services in order to fully support a victim of crime. It is also clear that a coherent RJ strategy also needs to be properly integrated into the broader local police and crime plan.

The next step will be to determine how innovation in areas such as Durham and Cleveland can be adapted and adopted in areas of the country that have been slower to develop RJ services, in order to promote greater consistency and stop the ‘postcode lottery’ of RJ availability for victims of crime.